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Spring Wild Turkey Hunting: Addiction, Obsession, Passion

Noted turkey hunter and outdoor writer Tom Kelly once wrote, “I do not hunt turkeys because I want to. I hunt them because I have to. I would, really, rather not. But I am helpless in the grip of my compulsion.”

I completely agree!

Anyone who has ever spent a gorgeous Nebraska spring morning with their back leaning against the base of a mature hardwood tree or sitting in a camouflaged blind, using a call and decoys to lure a wild strutting, gobbling tom turkey to within shooting range, can attest to the addiction, obsession and passion of this outdoor lifestyle.

A tom turkey struts during a recent spring archery wild turkey hunting season in rural Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

And, the spring wild turkey hunting seasons in Nebraska are fast approaching! Opening dates are: Archery – March 25,  youth shotgun – April 9 and regular shotgun – April 16.

So why is spring wild turkey hunting in Nebraska is so compelling? Here are my reasons.

*The awakening of spring woods is irresistible. One of the greatest things about spring wild turkey hunting is the opportunity to watch nature come alive and awaken in the springtime. The hunter gets a front-row seat to see the greening of foliage, the opening of buds and blossoms, the cacophony of many different songbirds and the direct, close observation of other wildlife like furbearers, raptors and deer.

The view from a spring shotgun wild turkey hunting blind in rural Washington County, NE. In the foreground are two white-tailed deer and in the background is a coyote. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

*The gobble is at spring turkey hunting’s core. There is no experience as electrifying as hearing multiple gobbles echo through the woods in the gray-blue color of dawn during a spring wild turkey hunt. What is truly unforgettable is a male wild turkey vociferously belting out a loud, boisterous gobble near your hunting blind or location. The exhilaration felt by that noise fills the body of the turkey hunter with adrenaline!

* The antics of the bird imprints on the hunter’s psyche. I don’t know of many other game species that get as wound up as jealous male wild turkeys do during their mating season. The entire courtship display they put on from gobbling activity to tail fanning, puffing of feathers, strutting, stamping, drumming and fighting is something to see.

A tom turkey struts around three hen turkeys during a recent spring shotgun wild turkey hunting season in rural Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

*Those crazy jakes provide quite the entertainment. Jakes or young male wild turkeys find safety grouped up in numbers, whether 2 or 12. And mobs of them will aggressively attack any other male wild turkey in the area, particularly the big adult toms. If you’re using strutter or jake decoys on your turkey hunt, it is almost guaranteed a pair or mob of jakes will run right into your setup, go after that decoy and offer an action-packed scenario.

* Calling wild turkeys is like a chess match: They make a move, you make a move. A tom gobbles. Should I call or not call? The tom gobbles again. Do I continue calling, stop calling or use a different call? The challenge of the hunt is fooling this wary and elusive bird. And from the moment you first call in a gobbler, you’ll almost surely be a turkey hunter for life.

*Every turkey and every hunt is different: Successful wild turkey hunters know that you have to be willing to change strategies quickly. The U.S. Marine Corps slogan applies here: “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” That’s because no hunt is the same. No two toms are the same. No two toms respond to the same call the same way. They all react differently to certain situations and conditions. Birds can come from almost any direction either silent or communicating.

*The surprises of the hunt make it special, a bit frustrating but memorable.  A friend of mine once said: “Any given adult male wild turkey is prone to do whatever the hunter thinks he couldn’t, wouldn’t, and shouldn’t do.” I have had tom turkeys come in from behind me. I have had them hang up just out of range. I have had hens intercept them on their way to me. I have had coyotes chase them off. I have had them gobble their heads off while walking directly away from me. I have had them attack a downed bird I shot. I have even had them standing next to my truck, ridiculously checking out their reflections, as I returned from my blind in the field. Believe it or not, the unexpected elements of the hunt make it special, a bit frustrating but memorable.

* Spring wild turkey hunting is perfect for youth. The hunting is exciting, with big, vocal game birds, and the kids love hunting out of a tent (blind) and have fun trying to call birds. If there was a certain type of hunting ideal for today’s youth, there’s no doubt it is spring wild turkey hunting. A few other good things about youth turkey hunting in Nebraska, the permits for those 15 years of age and under are only $8, the youth shotgun season for them opens one week before the regular one does and our Take ‘Em Hunting challenge is focused on young hunters.

Your blogger’s 6-year old grandson, Jackson Edward Wagner, loves being in grandpa’s turkey hunting blind in rural Sarpy County, NE. Jackson will be coming along this spring on his first spring wild turkey hunt with his grandpa. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Hooked on hunting wild turkeys in the spring yet? You can learn more details about our spring seasons at OutdoorNebraska.gov

Outdoor educators Julia Plugge (left) and Christy Christiansen (right) of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have a light-hearted moment setting up their decoys on a spring wild turkey hunt. Photo courtesy of Jeff Kurrus/NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Enjoy the hunt! And remember, time outdoors is time well spent!

GIL-OBBLE-OBBLE-OBBLE! … GIL-OBBLE-OBBLE-OBBLE!  … GIL-OBBLE-OBBLE-OBBLE!

A tom turkey gobbles on a hilltop in rural Douglas County, NE during a recent spring shotgun wild turkey hunting season. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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